The success of Christos Tsiolkas' novel The Slap is heavily reliant on the reader's preparedness to accept that a mother would seek to press charges against one of her circle of friends for disciplining her unruly 4-year-old son at a suburban barbecue. It follows that the role of Rosie (the mother in question) or, more accurately, the episode devoted to her story is pivotal to the television adaptation, BBC4's latest impressive import.
Played with a quiet determination by Melissa George, first known to British viewers for her appearance in Home & Away eons ago, Rosie lives a ramshackle existence, indulging (and still breast feeding) her son Hugo, making excuses for her alcoholic husband Gary and constantly dreaming of a life she has little hope of attaining. Stated explicitly to her in one scene, 'she has a lot going on' and none of it very appealing. Her doomed, co-dependent relationship with unreconstructed man-child Gary is drawn into sharper focus by her decision to pursue, rather obsessively, criminal proceedings against Harry, further isolating them within their social group.
Trading in its native Australia under the tagline 'Whose side are you on?', The Slap is a series concerned with parallels and Rosie's episode, the fifth of eight, seeks to draw them anywhere it can – in the physical separation of the courthouse public gallery; in the cigarettes smoked after the non-verdict; in the clammy confines of Rosie's home and the airy orderliness of the show home she will surely never buy. Happily, though, any temptation to draw neat comparisons is avoided, with the effect that your sympathies switch not just with the episode, but almost with every other scene.
This ambiguity is achieved through an episode structure which, in common with the novel, chooses to focus on just one of the protagonists per episode, forcing other major players out of the action for hours at a time. Harry, for instance, perpetrator of the titular slap at a moment when Gary seems incapable of enforcing discipline, merits barely two lines here. In his place, Bilal, the husband of Rosie's friend, is forced into the role of surrogate parent, although it is unclear whether Rosie or Hugo is meant to be the infant.
'You remind me of a life I don't want to go back to,' Bilal tells Rosie. Frankly, given the boorish drunkenness and irresponsibility displayed by her husband, this is a sentiment shared by anyone who has ever been a student. As damning as Bilal's verdict is, it has nothing on the heart-sinking smile shared between Rosie and Gary at the very moment when order threatens, finally, to intervene in this folly. It gets you right where it hurts, just like it's meant to.